The Real News Network on Whistleblowing, Part 2

Part Two of my recent inter­view on the excel­lent, inde­pend­ent and fear­less Real News Net­work:

A new threat to media freedoms

Writers of the world, beware.  A new threat to our free­dom of speech is loom­ing and, for once, I am not inveigh­ing against the Offi­cial Secrets Act.  

Over recent years the UK has rightly earned a pun­gent repu­ta­tion as the libel cap­ital of the world. And now it appears that this won­der­ful prac­tice is going “offshore”.

How did this whole mess begin?  It turned out that someone in the Middle East could take excep­tion to a book writ­ten and pub­lished about them in the USA.   US law, some­what sur­pris­ingly con­sid­er­ing its cur­rent par­lous state, provided no route to sue.   How­ever, some bright legal spark decided that the UK courts could be used for redress, provided the offend­ing book had been sold in the UK — even if only a hand­ful of second-hand books had been sold over Amazon​.co​.uk — and Mr Justice Eady helped the pro­cess along magnificently.  

And so was born the concept of “libel tour­ism”.  Satir­ical cur­rent affairs magazine Private Eye has long been cam­paign­ing against this, other UK news out­lets gradu­ally fol­lowed suit, and the UK gov­ern­ment is finally tak­ing steps to rein in these egre­gious, if luc­rat­ive, legal practices.  

3_wise_monkeysBut, hey, that’s pre­cisely when your off­shore crown depend­en­cies, oth­er­wise known as Brit­ish tax havens, come into their own.  The UK has for years turned a blind eye to the dubi­ous fin­an­cial prac­tices of these islands, the most geo­graph­ic­ally con­veni­ent being the Chan­nel Islands and the Isle of Man, where the atti­tude to self-regulation makes the prac­tices of the Square Mile look pos­it­ively Vestal.

Now it appears that Guern­sey is look­ing to become a hub of another luc­rat­ive off­shore prac­tice: libel tourism.  

Guern­sey has its own par­lia­ment — the States —  and can make its own laws.  So as the libel door closes on the UK main­land, a firm of off­shore tax law­yers has iden­ti­fied a won­der­ful busi­ness opportunity. 

Jason Romer is the man­aging part­ner and intel­lec­tual prop­erty spe­cial­ist at the large “wealth man­age­ment” legal firm Col­las Crill.  Accord­ing to his firm’s web­site, he also, coin­cid­ent­ally, sits on the island’s Com­mer­cial IP Steer­ing Group and the Draft­ing Sub-Committee, and is thus con­veni­ently on hand to steer the new legis­la­tion through the States.

Hogarth_judgeAlso coin­cid­ent­ally, he appears to be an enthu­si­astic advoc­ate of Eady’s infam­ous “super-injunction” régime which has had such a chillingly expens­ive effect on the Brit­ish media in the last decade.

So, if this law is passed, any­one, any­where around the world will be able (if they can afford it) to register their “image rights” in Guern­sey.  These rights can even last indef­in­itely after the ori­ginal owner’s death.

This means that any­one, any­where, who feels that their “image” has been inap­pro­pri­ately reproduced/copied/pirated — the cor­rect legal ter­min­o­logy is hazy —  can then sue through the Guern­sey courts for redress.  This could poten­tially be a power­ful new global tool for the sup­pres­sion of free speech.  As pub­lic out­cry swells inter­na­tion­ally against the US IP laws, SOPA and PIPA, and across Europe against the utterly undemo­cratic ACTA, this new law is a giant leap pre­cisely in the wrong direction.  

Guern­sey, my island of birth, has changed out of all recog­ni­tion over the last thirty years.  Ever since the 1980s infest­a­tion of off­shore bankers and trust fund law­yers, it has been tarmac-ed over by greed and social divi­sion. Before then it was proud of its egal­it­ari­an­ism, Norman-French her­it­age, beau­ti­fully ana­chron­istic pace of life, and an eco­nomy based on toma­toes and tourism.

Now, if this law is passed, it will be known for its eco­nomy based on rot­ten fin­an­cial apples and off­shore libel tourism.

I just wanted to get that out of my sys­tem now — while I can still freely express my thoughts and before the island can sue me for dam­aging its “image rights”.… 

DoubleThink Disorder — a new pathology

An update is appar­ently due of the 1994 edi­tion of the “Dia­gnostic and Stat­ist­ical Manual of Men­tal Dis­orders”, the psy­chi­at­rists’ bible that allows them to tick-box their patients into a dis­order, and then, no doubt, pre­scribe Big Pharma industry drugs or an expens­ive form of ther­apy.  Any­one who has ever watched Adam Curtis’s excel­lent “Cen­tury of Self” will be aware of the patho­lo­gising of soci­ety to the bene­fit of the psy­chi­at­ric pro­fes­sions and far beyond.

I am not mak­ing light of ser­i­ous men­tal ill­nesses requir­ing spe­cial­ised and long term treat­ment such as bipolar, schizo­phrenia or chronic depres­sion.  These are crip­pling and soul-destroying con­di­tions and many fam­il­ies, includ­ing my own, have been touched by them.

RitalinBut I am con­cerned by the appalling Pharma-creep that has been going on over the last few dec­ades where, for example, increas­ing num­bers of chil­dren are labeled with ADHD and ladled full of Ritalin (which can also lead to a thriv­ing black mar­ket in the onward sale of said drug). And we are appar­ently about to see ever more divar­ic­at­ing dis­orders added to the shrinks’ bible.  

Kevin_and_PerryAs this recent art­icle in The Inde­pend­ent states, stroppy teens will now have “oppos­i­tional defi­ance dis­order”, and adults who think of sex more than every 20 minutes are suf­fer­ing from “hyper­sexual dis­order”. (How on earth will this be dia­gnosed — will poten­tial suf­fer­ers have to keep a thought crime diary as they go about their daily lives? Man­age­ment meet­ings could be so much more divert­ing as people break off to write an update every so often — although they might have to pre­tend they’re play­ing buzzword bingo.)   And those suf­fer­ing from shy­ness or loneli­ness will suf­fer from “dys­thy­mia”.  Well, as a clas­si­cist, I’m glad to see that ancient Greek still has a role to play in today’s lexicon.

I know that such beha­vi­oural traits can be debil­it­at­ing, but to patho­lo­gise them seems rather extreme — enough to give a per­son a complex.….

Ivory_tower2On another some­what facetious note I was intrigued to see this doing the inter­net rounds recently.  It appeared to sug­gest that hav­ing a robust dis­trust of your gov­ern­ment was also about to be patho­lo­gised as Anti-Government Pho­bia, which I pre­sume would mean that vast swathes of the world’s pop­u­la­tion were men­tally ill.  How­ever, I think the clue to the legit­im­acy of the piece was in the name of the sup­posed author: Ivor E. Tower MD.….

How­ever, back to the point of this art­icle. This was the para­graph in the Indie report that really got my goat:

“More wor­ry­ing, accord­ing to some experts, are attempts to redefine crimes as ill­nesses, such as “para­ph­ilic coer­cive dis­order”, applied to men engaged in sexual rela­tion­ships involving the use of force. They are more com­monly known as rapists.”

So it appears that crime will now be explained away as a disorder.  

LEAP_logoBut, but, but.… the key point LEAP­ing out at me, if you’ll for­give the clumsy link, is that this seems to be in dir­ect, sharp con­trast to how we deal with an immense and ongo­ing prob­lem in the world today: namely the 50 year old failed “war on drugs”.  In this phoney war mil­lions of people across the world have been, and against all expert advice, con­tinue to be treated as crim­in­als rather than as patients.

Rather than rehash (sorry) all the well-known art­icles about why this war is such a fail­ure on every con­ceiv­able front, let me just make three key points: pro­hib­i­tion will always fail (as this clas­sic “Yes Min­is­ter” scene depicts), and the reg­u­la­tion and tax­a­tion of recre­ational drugs (in the same way as alco­hol and tobacco) would be good for soci­ety and for the eco­nomy; it would decap­it­ate organ­ised crime and, in some cases, the fund­ing of ter­ror­ism; and, most per­tin­ently for the pur­poses of this art­icle, it would make the use and pos­sible abuse of recre­ational drugs a health issue rather than a crim­inal matter.

Many people at some point in their lives exper­i­ment with drugs such as dope, E, coke, or whatever and have fun doing so, just as many like to have a drink to unwind after work.  A small per­cent­age will go on to develop med­ical problems.  

That is the crux of the argu­ment here. Excess­ive abuse of drugs, both licit and illi­cit, is mani­festly a health issue and yet some people are crim­in­al­ised.  Com­pare and con­trast the pro­posed new shrinks’ bible, where what were formerly deemed to be crimes will now be seen as med­ical disorders.

Tony_BlairI would call this rank hypo­crisy, but per­haps the shrinks can come up with a more high-brow name?  I pro­pose Soci­etal Double­Think Disorder.  

The Bankers’ Bonus being that it would con­veni­ently (psycho)pathologise all our “peace-speaking” war-mongering politi­cians, “free mar­ket” mono­pol­istic big busi­nesses, and “pub­licly owned but private profit” banks.

Praise the Gov­ern­ment and pass the Ritalin.…

Subversion” old and new

Abu_Qatada_CartoonAn inter­est­ing art­icle in yesterday’s Tele­graph by polit­ical com­ment­ator Peter Oborne about Abu Qatada.  This case has caused much sound and fury amongst the Brit­ish polit­ical and media classes over the last couple of days.  Oborne’s art­icle strips out the bom­bast and takes us back to basic prin­ciples — as did this other recent art­icle in the Inde­pend­ent a day or two ago by Christina Patterson.

How­ever, what really grabbed my atten­tion in Oborne’s art­icle was his ref­er­ence to David Max­well Fyfe, the Brit­ish politi­cian and law­yer who was tasked by Sir Win­ston Churchill to lay the found­a­tions of the European sys­tem of human rights after the atro­cit­ies of World War Two — a period when the need for basic rights was seared into people’s minds.

Maxwell_FyfeWhile Max­well Fyfe laid some good found­a­tions for European law, his name also has res­on­ance to all who worked for the UK domestic Secur­ity Ser­vice, MI5, dur­ing or in the imme­di­ate after­math of the Cold War.  It was Max­well Fyfe’s dir­ect­ive, issued in 1952, that was instru­mental in allow­ing MI5 to spy on Brit­ish polit­ical act­iv­ists sub­vers­ives.  This dir­ect­ive remained in place until 1989, when MI5 was placed on a legal foot­ing for the first time in its then 80 year his­tory, with the Secur­ity Ser­vice Act 1989. Here is a seg­ment about the Max­well Fyfe dir­ect­ive from my old book, “Spies, Lies and Whis­tleblowers”:

Back­ground to subversion

At this time MI5 was still using the same cri­teria for record­ing indi­vidual sub­vers­ives and their sym­path­isers as was set out by Home Sec­ret­ary David Maxwell-Fyfe in 1952.  He called on the ser­vices to identify any indi­vidual engaged in under­min­ing Par­lia­ment­ary demo­cracy, national secur­ity and/or the eco­nomic well-being of the UK by viol­ent, indus­trial or polit­ical means.  In fact, many would argue that groups who used only polit­ical means to get their point across were merely exer­cising their demo­cratic rights.  In fact, MI5 used pho­tos of demon­stra­tions, cop­ies of elec­tion lists and even lists of sub­scribers to rad­ical left-wing book clubs as indic­at­ors of sub­vers­ive sym­pathy and mem­ber­ship.  Of course, the world was a very dif­fer­ent place when I joined the sec­tion, almost 40 years after Maxwell-Fyfe’s declar­a­tion, not least because of the dis­in­teg­ra­tion of the Soviet Union and its East­ern bloc allies.  

TrotskyFrom Maxwell-Fyfe’s state­ment to Par­lia­ment, which was never made law, MI5 and sub­sequent gov­ern­ments used to argue that all mem­bers of cer­tain parties –such as the Com­mun­ist Party of Great Bri­tain (CPGB) or later the bewil­der­ing array of Trot­sky­ists, with names like the Inter­na­tional Marx­ist Group (IMG), Work­ers’ Revolu­tion­ary Party (WRP) Major and Minor, Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Party (RCP) and Revolu­tion­ary Com­mun­ist Group (RCG), anarch­ists and the extreme right — were threats to the secur­ity of the state or our demo­cratic sys­tem.  This in itself is a con­ten­tious pro­pos­i­tion.  None of these Trot­sky­ist groups was cul­tiv­at­ing East­ern bloc fin­ance or build­ing bombs in smoky back rooms, but were instead using legit­im­ate demo­cratic meth­ods to make their case, such as stand­ing in elec­tions, organ­ising demon­stra­tions and edu­cat­ing ‘the work­ers’.  They cer­tainly had no alle­gi­ance to a for­eign power, the primary raison d’etre for the invest­ig­a­tion of sub­ver­sion, because, unlike the Com­mun­ist Party, they abhorred the East­ern bloc.

Greenham-commonSince MI5 was effect­ively invest­ig­at­ing indi­vidu­als for hold­ing opin­ions the gov­ern­ment did not like — a very un-British pos­i­tion — it was always at pains to point out that it took its respons­ib­il­it­ies with regard to human rights very ser­i­ously, although not ser­i­ously enough to ensure that these activ­it­ies were reg­u­lated by a legal frame­work.  All the service’s phone taps prior to the passing of the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Act (IOCA) in 1985 were unlaw­ful because there was no legis­la­tion gov­ern­ing the inter­cep­tion of communications.”

The dir­ect­ive was not a leg­ally bind­ing doc­u­ment, but it was the basis for the work of F Branch, MI5’s massive sec­tion tasked with hunt­ing “sub­vers­ives” dur­ing those dec­ades.  It allowed intel­li­gence officers great lat­it­ude in inter­pret­ing what was deemed sub­vers­ive activ­ity and who were “legit­im­ate’ tar­gets.  And yet there were many, many instances of the abuse of this sys­tem by para­noid, senior intel­li­gence officers over the years.  More inform­a­tion can be found in this chapter on sub­ver­sion from the book.

So my point is, yes, Bri­tain ostens­ibly led the way in devel­op­ing a sys­tem to pro­tect human rights in the after­math of the Second World War.  But the very archi­tect of that sys­tem then pro­duced the dir­ect­ive that gave Brit­ish spies carte blanche to invest­ig­ate polit­ical dis­sid­ents within their own coun­try, which they abused for decades.

Mark_KennedyAnd now we have com­ment­at­ors rightly say­ing that we should uphold basic human rights’ val­ues in cases such as Abu Qatada.  But what about all the UK act­iv­ists who were illeg­ally invest­ig­ated by MI5 from 1952 to the 1990s? And, more per­tin­ently today, what about all the act­iv­ists and pro­test­ers who have been aggress­ively spied upon by the unac­count­able, under­cover police of the NPOIU since the 1990s, under the illegal cat­egory of “domestic extrem­ists”?

I was heartened to see 87 year old artist and peace act­iv­ist John Catt is suing the NPOIU for intrus­ive sur­veil­lance over the last 6 years.  Per­haps he should quote Max­well Fyfe on human rights dur­ing his case?

A Tale of Two Cases

Abu_QatadaThe first case, the one hit­ting the head­lines this week, is that of Jordanian-born alleged ter­ror­ist supremo Abu Qatada, who arrived in the UK using a forged pass­port almost 20 years ago and claimed asylum, and has already been found guilty twice in absen­tia of ter­ror­ist attacks in Jordan. He is reportedly also wanted in seven other coun­tries for terrorist-related offences.  He has been labeled Bin Laden’s right-hand man in Europe, and over the last few years in the UK has been vari­ously interned, placed under con­trol order, and held in max­imum secur­ity prisons.  

The UK courts ruled that he should be depor­ted to stand trial in his nat­ive coun­try, but these rul­ings were recently over­turned by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), as it had con­cerns that Jord­anian dip­lo­matic assur­ances that he would not be tor­tured could not be relied on, and that evid­ence against him in any retrial there might have been obtained using torture. 

MATT_CartoonAs a res­ult, Mr Justice Mit­ting of the Spe­cial Immig­ra­tion Appeals Com­mis­sion (Siac) has ruled that he should be released under a strict T-PIM (the new con­trol order).  This decision has pre­dict­ably roused the froth­ing wrath of the Home Office and the read­er­ship of the Daily Mail.  Politi­cians of all fla­vours have rushed out their sound bites con­demning the ECtHR decision.  

But can they not see that it is the com­pla­cency and the very dis­dain for law that the Brit­ish polit­ical and intel­li­gence infra­struc­ture has dis­played for the last dec­ade that has cre­ated this mess in the first place?  If, instead of kid­nap­ping, tor­ture, assas­sin­a­tion, and indeed intern­ment without trial within the UK, the rule of law had been fol­lowed, the coun­try would not cur­rently find itself in this legal quagmire.  

There used to be a notion that you used due pro­cess to invest­ig­ate a ter­ror­ist sus­pect as you would any other sus­pec­ted crim­inal: gather the evid­ence, present the case to the Crown Pro­sec­u­tion Ser­vice, hold a trial in front of a jury, and work towards a conviction. 

How quaintly old-fashioned that all seems today.  Instead, since 9/11 and the incep­tion of the hys­ter­ic­ally bru­tal “war on ter­ror” led by the USA, we have seen people in the UK thrown into prison for years on the secret word of anonym­ous intel­li­gence officers, where even the sus­pects’ law­yers are not allowed to see the inform­a­tion against their cli­ents.  The Brit­ish legal sys­tem has become truly Kafkaesque.

Which leads me to the second case.  This was a quote in yesterday’s Guard­ian about the Abu Qatada ruling:

The Con­ser­vat­ive back­bencher Dominic Raab echoed Blunkett’s anger: “This res­ult is a dir­ect res­ult of the per­verse rul­ing by the Stras­bourg court. It makes a mock­ery of human rights law that a ter­ror­ist sus­pect deemed ‘dan­ger­ous’ by our courts can’t be returned home, not for fear that he might be tor­tured, but because European judges don’t trust the Jord­anian justice sys­tem.”

Julian_assangeIn the case of Julian Assange, can we really trust the Swedish justice sys­tem? While the Swedish judi­cial sys­tem may have an ostens­ibly more fra­grant repu­ta­tion than that of Jordan, it has been flag­rantly politi­cised and manip­u­lated in the Assange case, as has been repeatedly well doc­u­mented. Indeed, the Swedish justice sys­tem has the highest rate per cap­ita of cases taken to the ECtHR for flout­ing Art­icle 6 — the right to a fair trial.

If Assange were extra­dited merely for ques­tion­ing by police — he has yet to be even charged with any crime in Sweden — there is a strong risk that the Swedes will just shove him straight on the next plane to the US under the legal terms of a “tem­por­ary sur­render”.  And, to bas­tard­ise the above quote, who now really trusts the Amer­ican justice system?

A secret Grand Jury has been con­vened in Vir­ginia to find a law — any law — with which to pro­sec­ute Assange.  Hell, if the Yanks can’t find an exist­ing law, they will prob­ably write a new one just for him.

For­get about the fact that Wikileaks is a ground-breaking new form of high-tech journ­al­ism that has exposed cor­rupt prac­tices across the world over the years.  The US just wants to make an example of Assange in retali­ation for the embar­rass­ment he has caused by expos­ing US double deal­ing and war crimes over the last dec­ade, and no doubt as a dread­ful example to deter others.  

Bradley_Manning_2The alleged Wikileaks source, US sol­dier Private Brad­ley Man­ning, has been kept in inhu­mane and degrad­ing con­di­tions for well over a year and will now be court-martialed.  The gen­eral assump­tion is that this pro­cess was designed to break him, so that he would implic­ate Assange and pos­sibly other Wikileaks asso­ci­ates.  

In my view, that means that any US trial of Assange could essen­tially be rely­ing on evid­ence obtained under tor­ture.  And if Assange is extra­dited and and judi­cially rendered to the US, he too will face tor­tur­ous con­di­tions.

So, to sum­mar­ise, on the one hand we have a man who is wanted in eight coun­tries for ter­ror­ist offences, has already been con­victed twice in his home coun­try, but who can­not be extradited.

And on the other hand we have a man who has not been charged, tried or con­victed of any­thing, but is merely wanted for ques­tion­ing on minor and appar­ently trumped up charges in another coun­try, yet who has also been imprisoned in sol­it­ary con­fine­ment and held under house arrest.  And it looks like the Brit­ish author­it­ies are happy to col­lude in his extradition.

Both these men poten­tially face a mis­trial and both may poten­tially exper­i­ence what is now euphemist­ic­ally known as “degrad­ing and inhu­mane treatment”.

But because one faces being sent back to his home coun­try — now seen for the pur­poses of his case as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under tor­ture — he shall prob­ably not be extra­dited.  How­ever, the other faces being sent to an alien coun­try well known as a beacon of civil rights and fair judi­cial sys­tem oops, sorry, as a banana repub­lic with a cor­rupt judi­cial sys­tem that relies on evid­ence extrac­ted under torture.

A_Tale_of_Two_CitiesThe UK has become a legal laugh­ing stock around the world and our judi­cial frame­work has been bent com­pletely out of shape by the require­ments of the “war on ter­ror” and the rap­idly devel­op­ing cor­por­ate fas­cism of our government.  

The UK is cur­rently cel­eb­rat­ing the bicen­ten­ary of the birth of Charles Dick­ens.  Per­haps the time has come to pause and think about some of the issues he dis­cussed in one of his best-known nov­els, “A Tale of Two Cit­ies”.  Do we want our coun­try to slide fur­ther down the path of state ter­ror­ism — a phrase adop­ted from the ori­ginal Grande Ter­reur of the French Revolution? 

We need to seize back our basic rights, the due pro­cess of law, and justice.

One man’s terrorist is another man’s activist

Here we go again.  In this heart­warm­ing art­icle in today’s Guard­ian news­pa­per, Brit­ish MPs on the Home Affairs Com­mit­tee have decided that the inter­net is the most sig­ni­fic­ant factor in the rad­ic­al­isa­tion of viol­ent extrem­ists and con­clude that Some­thing Must Be Done.

One para­graph leapt out at me:

The Com­mons home affairs com­mit­tee says inter­net ser­vice pro­viders need to be as effect­ive at remov­ing mater­ial that pro­motes viol­ent extrem­ism as they are in remov­ing con­tent that is sexual or breaches copy­right.” (My emphasis.)

Anti_SOPA_cartoonMost of us are aware of the recent dog­fight in the US about the pro­posed SOPA and PIPA laws to crack down on copy­right infringe­ment and, as a res­ult, there is a some­what belated but stead­ily increas­ing out­cry in Europe about the immin­ent impos­i­tion of ACTA across the continent.  

I have writ­ten before about how such laws provide the military-intelligence com­plex with the per­fect stalk­ing horse for a pan­op­tic sur­veil­lance state, and the cam­paign­ing writer, Cory Doc­torow, summed it up beau­ti­fully when he wrote that “you can’t make a sys­tem that pre­vents spy­ing by secret police and allows spy­ing by media giants”.

And, lo, it is now appar­ently com­ing to pass.  The Par­lia­ment­ary half-wits are now pro­pos­ing to use com­mer­cial legis­la­tion such as the utterly undemo­cratic ACTA as a bench­mark for coun­ter­ing poten­tial ter­ror­ists and extrem­ists.  Might they have failed to notice the pleth­ora of exist­ing counter-terrorism and eaves­drop­ping legis­la­tion, put in place for this very pur­pose and already much used and abused by a wide range of pub­lic bod­ies in the UK?

This yet again high­lights the mission-creepy Big Brother cor­por­at­ist group-think.  Rather than hav­ing to spell it out in bor­ing old lin­ear text, here is some use­ful link­age — what I like to think of as 3-D writing: 

Pro­tester = act­iv­ist = domestic extrem­ist = viol­ent extrem­ist = ter­ror­ist  

G20_kettling

I’m sure you can see where I am head­ing.  To name but a few notori­ous abuses, we already live in a world where west­ern gov­ern­ments and spy agen­cies col­lude in the kid­nap­ping, tor­ture and assas­sin­a­tion of alleged ter­ror­ist sus­pects; the NDAA now endorses these prac­tices within the US; Brit­ish police spy on inno­cent protest groups for years; legit­im­ate pro­test­ers can be “kettled”, beaten up and maced; act­iv­ists can be pre-emptively arres­ted as eas­ily in the UK as in Syria; and where Amer­ican politi­cians want to des­ig­nate the high-tech pub­lish­ing organ­isa­tion Wikileaks as a ter­ror­ist group.

There is an old aph­or­ism that one man’s ter­ror­ist was another man’s free­dom fighter.  I think the time has come for an update:

One man’s ter­ror­ist is another man’s activist.  

And we are all increas­ingly at risk. 

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism article

Here is a recent art­icle I wrote for The Bur­eau of Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism, about our slide into a sur­veil­lance state.  

TBIJ sup­por­ted Wikileaks dur­ing the release of the Spy­Files. The issue is of such cru­cial import­ance for our demo­cracy, I was dis­ap­poin­ted that more of the main­stream media did not fol­low up on the stor­ies provided.

Here’s the text:

Ana­lysis: the slide into a sur­veil­lance state

Fifty years ago, Pres­id­ent Eis­en­hower warned of the ‘dis­astrous rise’ of the military-industrial com­plex. His fears proved all too accurate.

Now in the post-9/11 world, the threat goes even fur­ther: the military-industrial com­plex is evolving into the military-intelligence com­plex. It is a world, I fear, that is pro­pelling us into a dysto­pian sur­veil­lance nightmare.

I have seen this night­mare unfold from close quar­ters. In the mid-90s I was an intel­li­gence officer for MI5, the UK domestic secur­ity ser­vice. That is, until I resigned to help my former part­ner and col­league David Shayler blow the whistle on a cata­logue of incom­pet­ence, cover-ups and crimes com­mit­ted by spies. We naively hoped that this would lead to an inquiry, and a review of intel­li­gence work and account­ab­il­ity within the notori­ously secret­ive Brit­ish system.

The blun­ders and illegal oper­a­tions that we wit­nessed in our six years at MI5 took place at what is prob­ably the most eth­ical and account­able dec­ade in the Brit­ish spy­ing service’s 100-year history.

Even then, they were get­ting away with pretty much whatever they wanted.

Since the attacks of 9/11, I have watched with increas­ing dis­may as more powers, money and resources have been pumped into the inter­na­tional intel­li­gence com­munity to com­bat the neb­u­lous ‘war on ter­ror’. As a res­ult, civil liber­ties have been eroded in our own coun­tries, and count­less inno­cent people have been killed, maimed and dis­placed across the Middle East.

The Reg­u­la­tion of Invest­ig­at­ory Powers Act (RIPA), which was designed to allow our spy agen­cies to law­fully inter­cept our com­mu­nic­a­tions to counter ter­ror­ism and organ­ised crime, has been routinely used and abused by almost 800 pub­lic bod­ies. MI5 admit­ted to mak­ing 1,061 mis­takes or ‘admin­is­trat­ive errors’ this year alone in its applic­a­tion of RIPA, accord­ing to the Inter­cep­tion of Com­mu­nic­a­tions Com­mis­sioner, Sir Paul Kennedy.

Intel­li­gence creep extends to the police, as we saw with the under­cover police scan­dal earlier this year, where the unac­count­able National Pub­lic Order Intel­li­gence Unit was dis­covered to be infilt­rat­ing harm­less and legit­im­ate protest groups for years on end.

It is a world, I fear, that is pro­pelling us into a dysto­pian sur­veil­lance nightmare.

Even bey­ond the under­cover cops, we have seen an explo­sion in cor­por­ate spy­ing. This involves mer­cen­ary spy com­pan­ies such as Xe (formerly Black­wa­ter), Kroll, Aegis and Dili­gence offer­ing not just secur­ity muscle in hot­spots around the world, but also bespoke oper­a­tions enabling big cor­por­a­tions to check out staff or to infilt­rate and invest­ig­ate protest groups that may embar­rass the companies.

The mer­cen­ary spy oper­ates without any over­sight what­so­ever, and can even be gran­ted immunity from pro­sec­u­tion, as Xe enjoyed when oper­at­ing in Iraq.

The last dec­ade has also been a boom time for com­pan­ies provid­ing high-tech sur­veil­lance cap­ab­il­it­ies. One aspect of this in the UK – the endemic CCTV cov­er­age – is notori­ous. Local coun­cils have inves­ted in mobile CCTV smart spy cars, while cam­eras that bark orders to you on the street have been tri­alled in Middlesbrough.

Drones are increas­ingly used for aer­ial sur­veil­lance – and the poten­tial for mil­it­ar­isa­tion of these tools is clear.

All this des­pite the fact that the head of the Met­ro­pol­itan Police depart­ment that is respons­ible for pro­cessing all this sur­veil­lance inform­a­tion stated pub­licly that CCTV evid­ence is use­less in help­ing to solve all but 3% of street rob­ber­ies in Lon­don. In fact, since CCTV has been rolled out nation­ally, viol­ent crime on the streets of Bri­tain has increased.

But, hey, who cares about facts when secur­ity is Big Busi­ness? Someone, some­where, is get­ting very rich by rolling out ever more Orwellian sur­veil­lance tech­no­logy. And while the tech­no­logy might not be used against the wider UK cit­izenry in a par­tic­u­larly malig­nant man­ner – yet – the same com­pan­ies are cer­tainly allow­ing their tech­no­lo­gies to find their way to the more viol­ent and repress­ive Middle East­ern states.

That would never hap­pen in Bri­tain – would it? We retain an optim­istic faith in the long-term benign inten­tions of our gov­ern­ment, while tut-tutting over Syr­ian police snatch squads pre-emptively arrest­ing sus­pec­ted dis­sid­ents. Yet this has already happened in the UK: before the royal wed­ding in April, pro­test­ers were pre-emptively arres­ted to ensure that they would not cause embar­rass­ment. The intent is the same in Syria and Bri­tain. Only the scale and bru­tal­ity dif­fers – at the moment.

When I worked for MI5 in the 1990s I was appalled how eas­ily tele­phone inter­cep­tion could be used illeg­ally, and how eas­ily the spies could hide their incom­pet­ence and crimes from the gov­ern­ment. In the last dec­ade it has become much worse, with senior spies and police officers repeatedly being caught out lying to the tooth­less Intel­li­gence and Secur­ity Com­mit­tee in Par­lia­ment. And this is only the offi­cial intel­li­gence sector.

How much worse is the endemic sur­veil­lance car­ried out by the cor­por­ate spy industry?

The bal­ance of power, bolstered by new tech­no­lo­gies, is shift­ing over­whelm­ingly in favour of the Big Brother state – well, almost. The WikiLeaks model is help­ing level the play­ing field, and whatever hap­pens to this trail­blaz­ing organ­isa­tion, the prin­ciples and tech­no­logy are out there and will be rep­lic­ated. This genie can­not be put back in the bottle. This – com­bined with the work of informed MPs, invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ists and poten­tially the occa­sional whis­tleblower – gives me hope that we can halt this slide into a Stasi state.

Annie Machon is a former spy with MI5, the Brit­ish intel­li­gence agency work­ing to pro­tect the UK’s national secur­ity against threats such as ter­ror­ism and espi­on­age.
You can read Annie Machon’s blog ‘Using Our Intel­li­gence’ here.

The Big Dig Journalism Conference, Copenhagen

I recently did the open­ing key­note at the Big Dig invest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ism con­fer­ence in Copen­ha­gen.  Thanks to the organ­isers for a won­der­ful weekend!

 

Mediafabric talk, Prague, October 2011

Last Octo­ber I had the pleas­ure of speak­ing at the excel­lent Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague.  The focus of my talk was the future of intel­li­gence, whis­tleblow­ing and journalism.

The event was organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, an inter­na­tional organ­isa­tion that provides open source tools and solu­tions for journ­al­ists, so it was an eclectic and stim­u­lat­ing crowd of journ­al­ists, geeks, hack­tav­ists and design­ers.   So well done and thank you to the organisers.

Here’s the video:

Speaking at Mediafabric Conference, Prague, 21 October

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Off tomor­row to speak at the Medi­afab­ric con­fer­ence in Prague. 

Should be a good one — all about the media, journ­al­ists, tech­no­lo­gists, design­ers, hack­ers,  and all points in between!

The con­fer­ence has been organ­ised by Source­fab­ric, and there will be live stream­ing here.

Journalists need to wise up to secrecy laws

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I had a fant­astic time at the Global Invest­ig­at­ive Journ­al­ism Con­fer­ence in Kiev last week­end.  A huge  well done to the organ­isers for a great four days, and I loved hav­ing the chance to meet so many inter­est­ing and inter­ested people from across the world!

I was invited to give the open­ing key­note speech (video to fol­low), where I dis­cussed some of my exper­i­ences from the MI5 whis­tleblow­ing years, but then went on to apply the harsh les­sons learned to the cur­rent situ­ation vis a vis the issue of spy influ­ence on the media today and the thorny issue of whis­tleblow­ing and the pro­tec­tion of sources.

Part of my talk focused on the con­trol of the media by the spies in Bri­tain.  As I have writ­ten before, this is very much a “car­rot and stick” scen­ario: the soft aspect, of course, being cosy chats with selec­ted journ­al­ists, well-timed career-enhancing scoops, as well as an increas­ingly unhealthy journ­al­istic depend­ence on brief­ings com­ing out of the intel­li­gence world and government.

The stick aspect includes the bat­tery of harsh laws that can be called upon to sup­press free report­ing in the UK, which some­times leads to self-censorship by the media.  These laws include:

Beginning_of_trialHow do I know all this?  Well, as you can see from many of the links in the above list, I’ve lived through much of this and have fol­lowed with great interest sim­ilar and related cases over the years.  More inform­a­tion about these issues can be found in this excel­lent report pro­duced by Art­icle 19 and Liberty over a dec­ade ago.  The situ­ation has not improved.

While in Kiev I atten­ded an excel­lent ses­sion where two Rus­sian journ­al­ists dis­cussed the rami­fic­a­tions of report­ing on the mod­ern incarn­a­tion of the Rus­sian intel­li­gence agency, the FSB.

I was some­what startled to hear that even in Rus­sia journ­al­ists have more legal pro­tec­tion than those in the UK — ie they face no crim­inal legal sanc­tion if they report whis­tleblower mater­ial from the Rus­sian spy agen­cies.  In the UK journ­al­ists poten­tially face 2 years in prison for doing so, under the invi­di­ous Sec­tion 5 of the 1989 OSA.

Way to go, Brit­ish democracy.